The Whaka100 is widely considered one of the toughest mountain bike marathons in the Southern Hemisphere and this weekend another hearty bunch of riders will take on the challenge.

The event, held in the Whakarewarewa Forest on Sunday, comprises 5.5km, 10km, 20km and 50km races, as well as the feature 100km race. With 1016 entries, organisers are expecting about 950 at the start line.

There is also the Whaka Shootout Time Trial, an all-action, fast-paced exhibition of racing, on Saturday afternoon.

Just to finish the 100km marathon is a massive achievement, so crossing the finish line in first place is nothing short of heroic.

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Last year Palmerston North's Josie Wilcox, a powerhouse of cross-country mountain biking, and Wellington's Edwin Crossling won the women's and men's races respectively.

Wilcox, who was competing in the 100km race for the first time last year, said she was looking forward to defending her title.

"Training has been going really well, I've prepared myself a little differently to last year. Last year was my first really long race, so now I kind of know what it feels like and what the training has to be going into it. It basically just means more longer rides on back-to-back days and more climbing - six hours is a long time on a bike."

The Whaka100 is an event she has been looking forward to all year.

"I love it because there's heaps of climbing and it's pretty much all single track - you can't really find that anywhere else, most bike marathon events are gravel roads."

Wilcox is a regular at Rotorua mountain biking events, such as the Winter MTB Series, more often than not making her way onto the podium. She said that experience of the trails would help in the Whaka100.

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"The winter series is one of my favourite events too, that was really good and then we had a weekend up there about a month ago. I think almost all of the trails I've probably ridden before."

She was eager to defend her Whaka100 title, but knew there would be a target on her back this year.

"I definitely won't go down without a fight. I quite like riding by myself, but I know a lot of people who are going to try to pace it with me. I'll ride to my strengths and try to make a bit of time on the hill climbs.

"[Crossing the finish line last year] was a massive relief, it felt like the last 10km took an hour, and it's just a massive sense of achievement. It's similar to an ultramarathon for a runner, it's so many hours on the bike finally paying off," she said.

Wellington's Edwin Crossling celebrates a win at the 2017 Whaka100. Photo / File
Wellington's Edwin Crossling celebrates a win at the 2017 Whaka100. Photo / File

For Crossling, second-place finishes in 2010, 2015 and 2016 had resulted in a man hell-bent on standing atop the podium. Having finally achieved that goal last year, he said he was more relaxed going into the 2018 event.

"After taking a few years to get [the win], it was a lot of effort. I'm definitely taking it easier this year, taking a bit more of a backseat. It's still my favourite race, but there's not as much desire to repeat the win because it's a huge amount of effort."

Crossling said the Whaka100 was like no other race he had competed in.

"You cover nearly every track in the forest, a good variety of tracks, it's often good weather. I just love long events, the challenge of it. I haven't done the same amount of training this year, but it's always a challenge.

"It's a really well-run event, there's a good atmosphere and it's always a good day out - rain, hail or shine. The trails are really well built, really fast, but still challenging enough technically.

"I think this is my sixth time racing and it feels just as good to finish each time. Quite a lot of them, with an hour to go, I've managed to blow up and almost go into survival mode. It's always nice to finish after a long day out."

Whaka100 Schedule
Saturday
11am-5pm: Registration pick-up (all distances)
1pm–5pm: Whaka Shootout Time Trial
9pm: Seeding order announced

Sunday
6-7am: Late registration pick-up (100km riders only)
7-9am Late registration pick-up (all distances)
8am: 100km start
9am: 50km start
9:25am: 25km start
9:45am: Whaka Kids 5.5km start
9:55am: Women's 10km start
11.30am: Whaka Kids prizegiving
12.30pm: Live music on the main stage
3pm: 25km prizegiving
3.30pm: 50km prizegiving
4pm: 100km prizegiving
4.15pm: Major spot prizes (must be present or still on course)
7pm: Course cut-off